October 4, 2007 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 124 Number 235

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Marriage statement: Just a beginning, Florida Baptists


Jay Dennis really knows how to stir things up! His motion urging Florida Baptists to “lead the way” on biblical marriage is precisely what we did last week in Jacksonville.

It’s not often that actions at a Baptist meeting garner the attention of a state’s political establishment the very same day, but that’s exactly what happened last week when news spread across the Sunshine State that Florida Baptists wanted a state constitutional amendment affirming biblical marriage.

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What had previously been a behind-closed-doors, below-the-radar conversation in Tallahassee about how—if at all—Florida should respond to the seemingly unstoppable sprint to condone “gay marriage” throughout America in the wake of Massachusetts’ endorsement of these unholy unions, was suddenly front page news across the state, even forcing the governor to comment on the Florida Baptist declaration.

My message to Florida Baptists is simple: Good start, but this will be a long, difficult battle and success is not achieved merely by a promising beginning.

Long before this month’s astounding 11-state sweep against “gay marriage,” Dennis had concluded it was time for Florida Baptists to make a statement on the matter, he told reporters Nov. 9 moments before the Convention voted on his motion. His motion simply asserts that Florida needs a state constitutional amendment defining marriage “as the union between a man and a woman and is the God-ordained building block of the family and the bedrock of civil society.” Dennis’ motion also called on Florida’s legislators in Tallahassee to get behind a state amendment, as well as our federal representatives in Washington to back the Federal Marriage Amendment.

The same day Florida Baptists adopted Dennis’ motion unanimously—and with thunderous applause when President Tommy Green announced the result—reporters in Tallahassee immediately sought the reaction of the governor and the new leaders of the State Legislature. Gov. Jeb Bush and his Republican colleagues, incoming Senate President Tom Lee (R-Brandon) and incoming House Speaker Allan Bense (R-Panama City), all said they believed the state’s Defense of Marriage Act would protect Florida against being forced to recognize “gay marriages” from other states.

“I’m not sure it’s necessary to do this in a pre-emptive fashion. I think we’re safe,” Bush told reporters.

Lee said, “The Florida Legislature approved a bill banning same-sex marriage in 1997. The law has been challenged and thus far has been upheld in the courts. While I’m not sure further action needs to be taken, we will approach the question with an open mind.”

Still, Gov. Bush did offer: “If there was a threat that gay marriage would be accepted in our state, then I might be supportive of it.”

Indeed, the threat is there. If you don’t believe me, just consider the reaction to our statement.

Geoff Leonard-Robinson, pastor of Key West’s Metropolitan Community Church—a pro-homosexual “church”—and plaintiff in one of seven lawsuits against the state marriage ban, said our statement violated his civil rights, according to The Tallahassee Democrat.

“From a civil rights standpoint, it denies equal access. It is writing discrimination into the constitution, adding that “civil rights have never been determined by a popular vote.”

The Democrat reported that Holly Parker of Florida State University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Student Union said in response to the news of the Baptist resolution: “It’s been pretty depressing around the office the last few days. But I don’t see Florida going for a constitutional amendment, not with the makeup of the state.”

In order to protest the statement of the Florida Baptist State Convention, about 100 homosexual activists were expected to march to the Capitol Nov. 12 to present a petition with 1,000 signatures calling for a repeal of the state’s ban on “gay marriage” and to hold a mock mass marriage ceremony, The Democrat reported.

“They are, in effect, forcing us to become second-class citizens by treating us different than heterosexuals in this community,” Paul Anway, pastor of Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church told The Democrat. “It is very much an issue of separation of church and state. The government should not be saying who can and cannot be married.”

Reliably liberal St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler also responded to Dennis’ motion in a Nov. 14 piece trashing Florida Baptists for selective morality.

As the debate continues in the state, you can count on more over-heated rhetoric opposing any effort to amend the constitution against “gay marriage.” (I won’t take the space in this editorial to respond to the criticisms cited above—some of which are patently ridiculous—because there will be time for that in the future, and because I have addressed these matters previously. See editorials in the following issues: July 3, 2003; March 4, 2004; April 29, 2004; and July 1, 2004.)

Major public policy changes do not happen overnight, nor are such changes achieved without great effort. If Florida Baptists and other concerned citizens believe our state needs an amendment protecting traditional marriage it will require enormous commitment, not just a one-time statement at an annual meeting.

As our legislators start to meet in the coming months in preparation for the 2005 legislative session, all concerned citizens must be actively engaged in the process, regularly letting their legislators know their support for an amendment. If legislators will not do their duty and put this matter on the ballot, citizens should take matters into their own hands and make the commitment to put the amendment on the ballot through the initiative process.

In either case, such an effort—both getting the issue on the ballot and passing the amendment—will require a sustained, unwavering effort on the part of concerned citizens. It won’t be enough just to talk about it in our own meetings, and even adopting resolutions which momentarily attract the attention of the news media.

Jay Dennis has helpfully stirred up the debate in Florida on “gay marriage.” But, as Dennis knows, talking is not good enough. Having spoken—and being heard, at least initially—action will be required now and for months to come. Only by such action can it be said that Florida Baptists are truly “lead(ing) the way.”